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A rhetorical analysis of against school by John Taylor Gatto

Attempting to persuade his audience reading from this Article,John Taylor Gatto’s displays his points of view that he does not belive in our school system. He believes that the staying in the American schooling system for so long has supplied him with every reason to refer to it as a childish program. According to him, people may see the key problem of schooling as boredom. To clarify his point, Gatto asserts having education is not equal to taking schooling which is instead considered as “a daily routine in a factory of childishness in order to make sure children do not really grow up.

” Gatto supports his views by enumerating a significant number of successful Americans who did not go through the schooling system but turned out to be productive, such as Abraham Lincoln. In this short story, “Against School”, Gatto tells his experiences with students that complained they were bored in school. Gatto said these students were not interested in what was being taught because they often said the work was stupid and that they already knew it.

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According to Gatto, these students were interested only in grades rather than learning the subject.

In “Against school” Gatto begins his article discussing his thoughts on whether the term “boredom” could be used to define the experience of a student. He explains that every time he used to ask students in class why they were bored in school, the students felt that their teachers “did not seem to know much about their subject and clearly weren’t interested in learning more” (Gatto 300).

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With teachers being bored as well and blaming their students he brings up the question of who really is to blame. Gatto feels a change of not to provide the student with “schooling’ but with an education can be done by simply being more involved with the student. He believes that by introducing students to “competent” adults or in other words teachers who know their subjects the students will gain inspiration and interest.

He then goes on to ask if schooling is even necessary, questioning if the 12 years of mandatory schooling are beneficial or not. Gatto proceeds to talk about the origins of our educational system and what he knows is the real purpose of our educational system based on the evidence he presents. He explains that the United States educational system comes from a military state named Prussia. An “educational system deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects; to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appropriate leader skills. (Gatto 303).

Claiming that we are bred to never grow up and remain children, in his last paragraph he states one last time his thoughts on the purpose of mandatory education “Mandatory education serves students only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants” (Gatto 307). Gatto states that in this country people sees “success” as synonymous with “schooling”. He articulates that important people like George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln never went through the twelve-year schooling system we have now and they still succeeded. Gatto said that according to our cultural traditions schools were made to make good people, good citizens, and each person their personal best.

Since his goal was to persuade his audience in this article I would consider the writing primarily appealing to logos and ethos with pathos used throughout the article. On page 300 his first sentence “I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom” is used to show the reader that he is an experienced veteran of our educational system. He places this at the very start of the article to try and gain immediate credibility so that he may potentially obtain the trust of the audience. This is all done to display his social standing which makes it ethos. On that same page he brings up the question “Who is to blame?” and he includes the reasoning for both the student’s and the teacher’s points of view on who they feel is accountable for school boredom.

“They said teacher’s didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clearly weren’t interested in learning more” claims Gatto his student’s would say to him, and when asking the teacher’s they stated “Who wouldn’t get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in grades”. He places their opinions first to set himself up for introducing his own point of view in the following paragraph on page 301, “We all are. My grandfather taught me that” and goes on to say that it’s your own responsibility to entertain yourself and the teachers job is to provide you with an education. Because of the placement in points of view the reader is first brought to choose between teacher and student and who is really at fault but is then introduced to Gatto’s point of view where he blames both the teachers and students.

This tactic was used because by stating his opinion after that of the students and the teachers his audience may perceive him to have the more balanced or in other words, most informed point of view between the three. By him saying that the students are saying one thing and that the teachers are saying another and then saying what he thinks and why they are wrong he is appealing to a logos way of persuading his audience. When explaining his grandfather’s lesson the word “childish” is used to describe those who don’t agree with what his grandfather is preaching, “the obligation to amuse and instruct myself was entirely my own, and people who didn’t know that were childish people, to be avoided if possible” (Gatto 301). This choice of wording also appeals to logos because by saying that the people who “didn’t know that” or in other words weren’t aware of the belief that it is your own job to entertain yourself, are “childish” he does this so that he can try and persuade the reader by explaining to them that because the students or teachers aren’t mature enough to already know that it is up to them to stay entertained, and they expect someone to entertain them they are still childish people.

This also appeals to ethos because by saying something negative about the opposition specifically that they are childish the author can lead the readers to believe that he is the wiser or more mature one of the three viewpoints. When providing evidence to support his claims Gatto once again appeals to his audience through ethos by stating the person he is quoting and some background on said person before writing about what it is they actually said that relates to the article. By adding positive words or background information about the author he attempts to gain credibility for his evidence by letting the audience know that the information is coming from someone who knows what they are talking about and he does it various times throughout the essay for example on page 302, “we have for example the great H.L. Mencken, who wrote in the American mercury” Notice the usage of the word great, and how the context its being used in could lead the reader to be more fond of the evidence.

A more obvious use of this tactic can be found on page 303 where he says “It was from James Bryant Conant-president of Harvard for twenty years, WWI poison gas specialist, WWII executive on the atomic-bomb project, high commissioner…and truly one of the most influential figures of the 20th century” He probably could’ve just said one or two things but he throws a whole list at the readers so they could potentially feel this is accurate information from someone with high standing. Instead of just throwing his evidence and support out there Gatto attempts to set them up again to seem more credible because of his certain choice of wording and how he places it in his writing.

He decides to end his article by trying to persuade the audience through the use of emotional appeal, or pathos. After urging the audience to “wake up” and see the points he is trying to make he decides to use the line “there’s no telling what your own kids could do” he says this to hook any leftover skeptics by bringing up the point that maybe it won’t help them but instead their children. This is effective because the reader may have a different point of view on this whole article when thinking about how it relates to their loved ones, their children.

When asked if I agree with Gatto and his views I would say that I partially agree with him. I do agree when he says that modern day education is boring because of both the teachers and students, it really is up to both sides to find a way to entertain each other to get the most amount of work done and find inspiration in what they are doing. When saying that “Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants (Gatto 307) I also agree with him. The idea that you should be forced to go and do something you don’t always want to for the sake of “learning” when you don’t really care about the topic to begin with has always been something I’ve questioned.

Sure you can get the work done but if you don’t care it won’t stick so what’s the point? It really does seem to me that schools are used for income, to keep the population busy and to keep us out of “trouble”. Education system teaches us to appease, its gets us tired and it makes many of us lose hope in what we want to do. I don’t agree with him however when he talks about how school keeps us from growing up. We still get older and mature and many people actually find what they feel is their calling through our educational system so that can’t be the case, I don’t think it keeps us from ever being useful. I think we are already useful; we are just too caught up in school and all the work there to go out and do things.

Throughout his article Gatto does a great job as far as being persuasive with his audience through the use of ethos logos and pathos. With Harper’s magazine being released and purchased by people who are interested in controversial views like this, Gatto gives the readers what they paid for by effectively questioning our educational system and making his point that education is turning our society into slaves or as he likes to put it “servants” (Gatto 307).

What I do feel he lacks on though is providing more views of the opposition, on page 302 he writes about all the people who didn’t go to school and are successful in the world, but he fails to mention anyone who has gone to school and has ended up just as successful as those people. I find it hard to believe that out of anyone going to school in the United States since 1915, not one person has been successful because of it. Though he is persuasive and successful in putting out his points of view this aspect of his article is very unbalanced. Ultimately, the article does get the job done and does a good job informing the readers of his views on our educational system and why he is against school.

Starting off his writing by stating “I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best, and during that time I became an expert in boredom” (Gatto 300) proves to be effective because logically it makes sense that he learns about boredom after thirty years, and being a teacher for thirty years gives him credibility in the topic at hand. Gatto argues that schools are cell-block style, forced confinement of both students and teachers (Par. 4). According to Gatto, James Conant changed the style of standardized testing, nor the gargantuan high school that warehouse 2,000 to 4,000 students at a time (Par. 12). Gatto states the best one to become your full potential is to manage yourself (Par. 27).

Cite this page

A rhetorical analysis of against school by John Taylor Gatto. (2016, Sep 17). Retrieved from

A rhetorical analysis of against school by John Taylor Gatto

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